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New legislation adds red tape, health care providers say

Patients First Act set to give more responsibility to LHINs to manage local care providers

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It’s called the Patients First Act, but for members of the Oshawa Clinic Group, it’s the government that is coming first.

The new rules under Bill 41 amend approximately 20 pieces of existing legislation to provide more power and responsibility to the local heath integration networks (LHINs). The bill also allows the government to investigate health care providers and people’s medical records without consent in order to determine the quality of care a patient is receiving. Critics also say the new bill will drive up wait times and reduce people’s access to proper care.

The Oshawa Clinic Group, one of Canada’s oldest and largest multi-speciality medical groups with approximately 130 physicians, is widely critical of the new legislation, claiming it will do nothing to improve the health care system.

“I’ve never seen our doctors more engaged about something…and as upset about what’s happening with the government,” says Harry Horricks, CEO of the Oshawa Clinic Group.

Currently, the LHIN system, implemented in 2006, sees 14 different networks, each responsible for a different region of the province. Durham Region falls inside the Central East LHIN.

“Under this bill, the suggestion is that the LHIN is going to hire a lot of new admin people to micromanage a lot of the health care system and, in particular, family doctors and family physicians,” Horricks says.

The bill, which is expected to pass its second reading next month at Queen’s Park, proposes to, among other things, increase the size of LHIN boards, expand the LHINs responsibility for additional health service providers, more responsibility for health system planning of physician resources, and allow LHINs to transfer assets, employees and service provider contracts from community care access centres (CCACs) and to provide the home and community care services currently provided by CCACs.

“We’re convinced that the experience, insight and structure of the LHINs make them the proper mechanism for these changes,” says Mark Nesbitt, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care.

“With greater responsibility for primary care, LHINs would be better positioned to create a more integrated, patient-centred health system in their local areas.”

However, Horricks only sees this as a duplication of what his group already does and, in a letter written to Eric Hoskins, the province’s health and long term care minister, his group states it will not participate in the changes with the LHIN.

“Our doctors, nurses and staff will keep doing the best they can for the patient, but we’re also going to start educating patients that this government is taking a tremendous amount of healthcare dollars and putting them in the wrong area and not in the area of high need, which are the patients,” he says.

The bill has also seen some heavy criticism from the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), which has released materials claiming the changes “create more bureaucracy and give unnecessary and sweeping powers to the Minister of Health and LHIN CEOs to impose decisions on local patient care.”

Under this new system, Horricks foresees wait times increasing due to the added level of bureaucracy and thinks the bill, along with the LHIN system, should be scrapped.

However, the Central East LHIN says it has a positive relationship with its stakeholders and has worked cooperatively with them throughout this process.

“We have a positive relationship with all of our stakeholders now and fully expect that to continue in the future,” says Katie Cronin-Wood, the director of communications and community engagement with the Central East LHIN.

Horricks says repeated requests over the years to have LHIN executives tour the Oshawa Clinic Group facilities have gone unheeded.